Friday, December 30, 2005

The Nick La Rocca legacy

When Freddie Keppard passed on the opportunity to record his music for fears that musicians would copy his style, the Original Dixieland Jazzband became the first to put jazz on record in 1917. Their leader was one Nick LaRocca, and according to him the fact that this white group was the first to record jazz was inevitable. You see, good ol' Nick believed that this new and exciting form of music was wholly a white invention. Nicky boy, you see, claimed that a music as complex as jazz could never have been invented by another race, let alone black people, whom he believed to be inferior to his white complexion. As if Buddy Bolden, Scott Joplin, Freddie Keppard, and a host of African American musicians in New Orleans never even existed.

Picking up copies of the Norwegian dailies to get a glimpse of what they regarded as the best Jazz records of 2005, it seemed horribly clear to me that current Norwegian Jazz writers must concur with Nick La Rocca's sentiments made some 90 years ago. Carl Petter Opsahl, jazz critic for VG, has produced a top five list which apart from its number one spot is completed by white or non-black performers. Not only that, four out of his top five have either Norwegian musicians as leaders or as an important part of their line-ups. That a live recording by John Coltrane tops his list says to me that he seems unable to follow much of the new releases in modern jazz outside his (and mine, don't forget) own country.

Roald Helgheim, who writes about jazz in the Sunday editions of Dagsavisen, received a price some time ago for his contributions to jazz in the form of his writing. Ironically, that price is called the Buddy-price, named after one Buddy Bolden, a figure the aforementioned Nick LaRocca pretended never existed, and looking at Helgheim's 2005 list it seems likely to conclude that he is only too happy to agree with Mr. LaRocca. Apart from Sonny Simmons' The Traveler on third place, every single record on his goddamn list is by white, Scandinavian performers! Simmons is augmented by Norwegian musicians on his record, so no wonder he got on the list.

Arild R. Andersen writes for Aftenposten, and used to shop at my record store. If I'm not mistaken, he once ordered a copy of Frank Lowe's Black Beings, but he seems to have forgotten such excesses, as his top five list gives us more Scandinavia, except for his number five spot, which is handed to Bill Frisell, who guessed it, WHITE. His colleague I do not know much about, but he seems as incapable as the others to look beyond Europe except to acknowledge that old masters are still great (see his number one spot).

I failed to find Terje Mosnes' list from Dagbladet and I should therefore probably not say this without evidence, but I fear he would come up with a similar list to those above.

I have long argued that music to African Americans have probably been the most important art form than that of any other group of people throughout history. A bold statement, I know. But through their culture and music, the oppressed black population of America have used music as a tool to express themselves and comment on their situations in ever more innovative and meaningful ways. They have used music as a tool to break free from stereotypes and oppression, and in the early 1900's that music was mostly Jazz and Blues.

It seems odd to me that when so many of the prominent Jazz writers in Norway compile their thoughts on the Year-in-Jazz through a Year-end-list, they fail horribly in looking to other parts of the world. Because the African Americans, who are the originators of the genre, are not the only ones who've been neglected; The writers have been so intent on showing how vibrant their own national Jazz-scene is, that they have failed to look outside of the Norwegian border, and when they do, they pick established performers over young talents. I would argue that these writers are not doing their job in trying to find and discover new, exciting, and good Jazz and then try to bring it to a wider audience through their writing. Either that, or they just have terrible bad tastes. Or both. It's a crying shame.

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